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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

are employers finding out I was a stripper?

A reader writes:

I moved away from home, and got into a bad crowd a couple of years ago. I made some crappy decisions, the biggest one being that I was working in a strip club/business for about three years. Now, obviously, I cannot be absolutely honest in that particular job aspect, and having no tax forms to show I worked there, it's hard to trace. My dad, who knows the situation, told me to put down that I worked for him doing administrative work for those years. I am experienced (worked and took a class) in the basic duties of administrative work, and every test that I have had to take I have done well in (Microsoft Excel, Data Entry 10-Key, Typing). I know that it is basically dishonest to fudge my employment record, but I know the programs, that is what I put as my knowledge, and my dad will back me up.

The problem is this: I get only so far into the interview process, until I sign the form consenting to a background check, and then -- no calls, or outright denied employment. I've been reading your site for awhile now (and have remarkably improved my rusty interviewing skills -- thanks), and figure you could give me an insight on things. Should I say I was an independent contractor for those years? What do employers look up on background checks? I'd appreciate your feedback.

Well, as I'm sure you know from reading this blog, lying about past employment isn't a good idea. You might be better off not making up past employment and not mentioning the strip clubs, and simply starting with no job history. You wouldn't be the first. It will pose an added challenge, for sure, but then you won't be living in fear of the lie being uncovered.

But you don't need me to tell you that, and I'm in a sympathetic mood, so let's move to the substance of your question.

What kind of background checks are these companies doing? If they're looking at your credit report, they may be seeing a red flag in that you have no reported employers for the period in question. However, if they deny your application based information they find in your credit report, they're required by the credit reporting laws to tell you that. So if you're not receiving those notices, that's not what's happening. So let's assume it's not that. A more general background check could also reveal past employers (and in your case, it sounds like they'd find none for that period, which would be suspicious).

But I think there's something else going on, although I don't know what it is. Are there people they might be calling for references who aren't giving the sort of reference you want? (Keep in mind that companies aren't limited to just the list of references they hand them; they can and do also call other employers on your resume.)

It's also possible -- maybe even likely -- that there's nothing going on here; it's a hard economy and your work history isn't extensive, and maybe it's not about this at all. That's a real possibility.

I suggest trying to get some feedback from some of these companies you've applied to. Plenty won't give you any, but you might get lucky and get someone who tells you something useful. In order to have any chance of anyone being honest with you, you need to be really, really clear (in words and in tone) that you are not trying to debate the decision, just trying to get an understanding of why you're not getting job offers. Make them want to help you. There's some advice on how to do that here.

What input do others have?


Anonymous said...

It's the age-old issue of, "Companies only want to hire you to do for them what you're already doing for something else."

(AAM, just want to say how much I admire and respect you for being helpful and constructive where you could just as easily have blown this person out of the water.)

Let's just say I "have a friend" who had to do something similar (the dad thing, not the stripper thing) when making a career change, kind of like an internship.

The only thing constructive I can come up with for the OP would be, since it sounds like she (my assumption on gender) is looking for entry-level administrative work, what about a temp agency? Not as an end-goal, but as a way to simultaneously network AND get resume-qualifying experience...

Kerry said...

I think by far the most likely issue here is that the economy sucks. I've done background checks at a LOT of companies (including an airline, where it's actually an FBI background check, which is no joke). I can't think of any place where I've found out about someone's off-the-books employment, in a strip club or otherwise.

I have to say, too, that there is nothing wrong with being a stripper. You have to earn a living. I have spent most of my hiring career in Milwauke, Wisconsin (not exactly a bastion of socially liberal thinkers), and I've hired ex-strippers. This is not as big of a deal as you think it is.

Hang in there.

Patty said...

Oddly enough, as a college prof, I know more than my share of former strippers and I like them a lot. Like Kerry, I don' t think there is anything wrong with stripping and, if given an opportunity, I'd hire the former strippers I know. They have excellent customer service and networking skills -- and, as one of them said, 'honey, I've been naked and upside down hanging from a pole, I can do just about anything' -- so, they're fearless!

The thing is, even when they are well beyond their stripping days, they still have a sort of 'stripper vibe' that's hard to shake. These girls were good at their jobs stripping -- and in some ways those talents and ways of relating to people continued in other contexts.

You should think about this and consider the possibility that folks may be picking up on something that makes them uncomfortable.

The solution -- do some serious re-evaluation of your image. Do some practice interviews with perceptive friends or a video camera and look for anything that might set off an alarm bell.

If you're in a conservative area or field, they may not know why they are choosing someone else -- just that they are.

You might want to consider sales jobs or serving jobs -- at least for a while so you can have a non father reference. Really, any job where you are working with people and perusading them to do something will build on the skills you learned while stripping -- and, the folks hiring for those positions will see your talents as strengths for the position.

Charles said...

Anonymous is right; a temp agency would be a good direction for the letter writer to go.

But, we also have to keep in mind that it is the worst job market in over 20 years (I think it was 26 or 28 years ago that we had unemployment numbers this high).

For those of you who were not around then here is something to keep in mind about those numbers. Today, unemployment figures released by the government are only for those claiming unemployment compensation. No one else is included.

Back in the days of Jimmy Carter (yes, he was once President, not just a builder of Habitat for Humanity houses) unemployment figures included those claiming unemployment benefits PLUS an estimate of those who no longer collect and have "given up" looking for work, PLUS those who were not able to collect in the first place, such as recent college graduates.

Jimmy carter changed the laws for reporting unemployment to not include "estimates." Which means that those last two groups are not included in today's figure so that means unemployment today is a bit higher than those figures from 26 years ago.

I'll repeat that - unemployment today is higher than it was 26 years ago.

So, AAM is right it is a bad market for job seekers right now.

As a job seeker myself I know it is hard; but we have to learn to not take it personally.

What do you all say that this coming Friday, at 12:00 noon Eastern time we all stick our heads out the window and shout "I am a good, decent, hardworking person and I need a job". Think something might happen?

Anonymous said...

Your past shouldn't matter in this regard, but the world is an imperfect place. I think that if your dad is willing to give you an alibi for your work experience during that period, you should take him up on it. Lying sucks, but this silly thing shouldn't keep you unemployed. I'd say the important thing is to not misrepresent your abilities and skills -- and to chalk this up to a unique circumstance where fudging the truth is justified.

Anonymous said...


Please tell me employers really *aren't* using the employment info off of a credit report for anything.

One of the bureaus lists my employer as a temp agency I worked for during the summer after my freshman year of college... which will be 10 years ago this summer.

George A Guajardo said...

@ Charles I'm with you on the shouting thing. If anyone in the Milwaukee area hears a guy yelling out of a window, don't be alarmed. It's probably me.

Anonymous said...

Don't be alarmed by not getting a call back. As a recruitment director, I see people with 10 years admin experience applying and accepting entry level admin positions. Times are tough and this goes for temp agencies as well. Keep trying and in the mean time, don't be afraid to take a service job in sales or a restaurant. It shows you are willing to work a position to make ends meet.

Kate O'Neill said...

I just want to add, a propos of nothing very specific, how much I cherish that everyone responded in such a positive and helpful way.

To the OP, I hope you have found what you were looking for in guidance, and I wish you the very best of success in your future endeavors.

Stripper Secretary said...

Thanks to all of you for being so open minded. I appreciate the feedback, and will look into more temp agencies. Although the experience I've had with them isn't the best, I will keep trying.

TheLabRat said...

Ex stripper who works admin here; most dancers work as independent contractors. As far as I'm concerned that's all my potential employers need to know about that particular potential gap in my resume. Most of my admin work is done as an independent contractor now anyway so it works out well; interviewers assume the two are connected in my case.

If the temp agencies in your area are anything like the ones in mine (which is to say flaky, shady, and constantly getting sued for bad business practices) this sort of non-specificity may be better for you. But defintiely check into the agencies first, when they rock, they seriously rock.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kerry and Patty for your comments. i am currently a stripper and trying to find "normal" employment. It's true about the networking and customer service skills that we have. Some of the women i work with are truly amazing in so many different ways. As for employers finding out I was/am a stripper? I have tax records showing I have been one for the past 3 years, so I think I pretty much have to own up to it and hope that an employer out there can see and appreciate the my unique talents.

Lani said...

what if you include that you worked there, but lie and say it was just as a waitress? then you can still include a lot of the skills you learned there like cash handling, people skills, diplomacy, stuff like that